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Lawmakers reject COVID mitigation efforts for session

legislators clapping
Lawmakers clap on Tuesday during a joint session of the legislature as the governor gives her state of the state speech.

South Dakota lawmakers will not put any COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place for their annual legislative session, at least for now.

That comes as the state sets daily COVID infection records. Active COVID cases are jumping by the thousands as state lawmakers are rounding out the first week of the session.

The omicron variant is highly contagious. At least one state lawmaker has already tested positive for COVID-19.

Democratic state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, of Sioux Falls, tested positive Wednesday morning. Testifying before the Senate Legislative Procedure Committee, Nesiba urged senators to put precautionary measure in place as COVID deaths and infections rise.

“I do think that we need to take mitigation measures and that the people’s house should be a place where the public can visit and not face the threat that they’re going to get an infection by coming to watch or participate in their government,” Nesiba said.

Nesiba’s motion to make that happen failed.

The majority Republican committee is opting instead to hold session without recommended Centers For Disease Control measures, such as masking in communities of substantial spread.

The entire state is considered to have substantial spread of the disease. There are nearly 25,000 active COVID infections. Over 2,500 South Dakotans have died. The state recently suffered its first COVID-related death of a child younger than 10.

Republican state Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, of Watertown, leads the Senate.

“Every death is a tragedy,” Schoenbeck said. “There’s no disease that anybody thinks is a special disease that we’re happy to have. Unfortunately, this one looks like it’s going to be around a long time. I can’t quite imagine what good could come from crawling in a hole. My own thing is, I got all the shots. They come with more of them, I’m getting those, too. People have to decide how they’re going to keep themselves safe. That’s just the world we’re going to be living in for a while.”

State lawmakers are rounding out the first week of session. They still have nine weeks to go.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.